Features 13 May 2024

Debrief: 2024 Supercross Rd17 Salt Lake City

Champions Jett Lawrence, RJ Hampshire, and Tom Vialle talk title clinching moments.

The Salt Lake City Supercross was a huge night in the careers of Jett Lawrence, RJ Hampshire, and Tom Vialle as they all three walked away with championships they hadn’t won before. Each of them spoke with the media after the race about their crowning moments in this Debrief feature.


Image: Octopi Media.

Jett, what are you feeling right now and what are your emotions as you keep this incredible championship dream rolling?
I think the biggest thing is that I’m glad it’s finally over. It felt like a long season, but it’s also gone kind of fast. The emotions will probably all settle in tomorrow or on Monday, but right now I’m just obviously super happy about it and I’m also happy to do it for the team.

What was going through your mind in that main event? You were riding by yourself, so were you thinking about the championship or were you just focused on the race?
The whole time in my head, I was like, “Don’t mess up, don’t mess up!” Any bit of sketchiness, I just backed it down. Mom would have been happy with that. Any risk that could have been taken, we kind of took it out.

We all know the story of your family leaving Australia, did you ever think as a kid you’d ever get to this point?
Honestly no. I think at that age, I was just excited to play with other stuff. Honestly it only became a goal to win a 450 championship at the end of last year really. Once I got my outdoor one, I was like, “Okay we can do this, let’s try to go for Supercross!” I mean it’s definitely a dream come true. Once we got here, we obviously thought about how it would be awesome and all that stuff, but you can never really look ahead and kind of think, “Oh I can do that,” because it’s unheard of! My dirt bike history sucks, but I think it was Ryan Dungey who won in his rookie season and not many people can do it. I’m just grateful that I have an awesome team behind me, and they gave me an awesome bike and I was able to get that for them.

Looking back at the season, is there any one moment that stands out to you that was the highlight for you as a defining moment?
I think the one that comes to mind was Anaheim 2 of getting booed in the opening ceremonies. At the time, I thought it was great because people are still going to come and watch whether they want to see me win or see me lose. It was kind of a cool thing. I mean, Ricky [Carmichael] told me, James [Stewart] told me, they all got booed at a certain stage, McGrath too. I might have gotten booed in a different way but we’re going to take it the same way as theirs and just say we did. I think that was the big one and we could have had a good night there, but we just messed it up ourselves. I’m still learning some stuff. I think that, and obviously the championship is a good “up yours” to those guys.

You went 22-0 last year in outdoors, eight wins this year, you’re Supercross champion, did you expect this in your first year and if so, how did it feel crossing the line knowing you’re 450 Supercross champion?
Hell no I didn’t know I was going to be this good on a 450. In outdoors, you have that high goal and a high goal for me is just a championship. A good friend of mine, Dylan Ferrandis, did it in 2021 and then it’s like, “Well, that’s possible.” Going 22-0 was kind of a bit surprising to myself too and this year was like, “Alright, if we can do outdoors, let’s see if we can do Supercross too. It started off good, we had some ups and downs. Every racer has the same mentality going in. They want to win, they want to win championships, so I think it’s not anything special. But yeah, I’m pumped.

You won a lot of race this year, when I look at the races you won, a couple of them were kind of pivotal. Was there one race that really stands out?
I think for me, I’d have to say Nashville, just because I had a bad run with a few bad rounds and lost a 21-point lead and we were tied. I feel like that was a good turning point for me to kind of rebound and I felt really good all day. I think that was one of my favorites, and obviously Daytona was sick too. It was just an awesome racetrack too and it was pretty gnarly to where it kept me focused and I had fun with it. It might sound crazy, but I actually had a lot of fun racing Daytona. The Triple Crown, normally I’m not a great Triple Crown guy, but I think that out of all of them, the biggest one was Nashville because it was tight. I think it makes it one of the best just because we had a tie in the points, and I was able to thankfully get a win.

250SX West

Image: Octopi Media.

RJ, of all the things you’ve been through, how important and how emotional is this moment for you and your team?
It’s so special. I could sit up here for hours. Everybody has their own story, and I was determined to write my own and to have a championship and be part of that. It’s truly special. I’ve had so many ups, so many downs, and still have people that just believe in me. I’ve always worked hard my entire life just to be in this position and to have the team. My group is small, but they’re the best guys that I could ask for, and that just goes to show that it definitely plays a big role in my results and how I am each weekend. Just how the vibes are around the team, and like I said, I would not change my group. Just a massive thanks to everyone that has been involved and been part of this story.

At what point during the race did you realize this is your title, and did you ever start thinking about the title and not focusing on the race?
I was the fastest guy all day today. I could go as fast as I needed to go and that’s just how it was. I had had a decent start, did what I needed to do there, and I was just trying to stay out of the way. Smitty [Jordon Smith] caught me early on the inside there and I was like, “Alright, I’m fine with that. No worries. Let me just fall in behind them.” I was tripling on in that right hander after the big triple. I don’t know what I did that. I did it three laps in a row and it was just like, “Alright dude, you need to chill.” And then it wasn’t until I think six minutes left, in the long rhythm I took a look up and I had seen we had six minutes left. I knew where Levi was, and I was like, “Okay, I’m fine. I can click these off no problem.” I was just marking my spots. I knew kind of where he was, I knew where I needed to be. I changed some lines to not risk what I was doing. The long rhythm I was going inside and double, the whoops I was jumping them, and it was really fast just going 3-3-3. Once Smitty went down late and Deegs [Haiden Deegan] was there, I started catching him and I was like, “Dude, go! I don’t want to win this so go! Stay away from me.” And then he started getting sketchy in the whoops and I was like, “Dude jump!” I was just trying to stay as far away from him as I could. And then he hit a Tuff Block with two laps to go and that Tuff Block fell way too close for comfort. Just one of those times where I’ve never been in my life where I was like, “Okay, I do not want to win this race, just please stay away from me.” But those last couple laps, I realized we finally did it.

You were fast all day, but there was no margin for error. Broadcasters were speculating that it caught you off a bit when Levi was strong in the heat race. Was that it at all or was it more that you just had to get through that, and all the matters was the main event?
Levi had ridden awesome all year, and when he gets a start, he’s as solid as can be. We have so much respect for each other. I could have done something stupid in that heat race, but I really just put everything into that start for the main event. I knew I needed to get in front of him. I seemed to make passes a little bit easier than him coming through. Once I spotted him and knew where he was, my times were solid, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

You’ve been in title fights before but was there anything this year that was different whether it was an accumulation of knowledge or is this just a message to riders out there to stay in the game, keep working, and eventually it’s going to happen?
No, it’s not that. Like I said, we all have our own story, and everybody can look back on my past and tell that I had some injuries that were gnarly. My TBI back in 2015, I always go back to that where I was racing for two years, and I didn’t even know I was racing. I couldn’t even tell you the race that was going on. Everybody has their own story, and it was just a long road. I’ve always put the work in, I’ve believed in myself, and I’ve clawed my way out of a lot of situations people probably wouldn’t have. Honestly one thing I’ve always cherished myself is my relationships with everyone I’ve worked with in the past, you’re not going to find someone that I’ve burnt a bridge with or anyone in the past of my career that I’ve done wrong. I think that goes a long way in this sport.

250SX East

Image: Octopi Media.

Tom, I want to talk about how quickly you’ve made this assent to a championship in America, it hasn’t been an easy road. I talked to Stephane LeGrand from LeBigUSA, and he says there’s a phrase in French that roughly translates to “one year to learn, one year to win” and you lived up to that. Have you heard that before and was that before and was that your goal to learn the first year and win the title in your second year?
I don’t know. [Laughs] That’s pretty amazing of course if you can learn one year and win the second year, but to be honest, I didn’t really expect this. My goal was to be consistent during the whole season and of course fight for the win, but after I won Daytona and two in a row in Birmingham, I just felt like, “Okay I got this. I’m pretty close and can fight for the title.” I made it to the end so it’s pretty amazing to be honest. I felt great all season. Way better than last year. I was struggling a lot last year and I feel like going into Supercross this year, I was enjoying it more and it was really amazing.

Can you talk us through some of the emotions with the struggles in the heat and the less-than-optimal gate pick and your great start in the main event? What was that roller coaster like for you?
I actually had a good day in the practice and through the afternoon I felt great. I had a bad start in the heat race and the track was really muddy. We were first on the track and the track was really wet, really slippery and muddy and I was struggling a lot. I was I think eighth or ninth in the heat race, so it was really bad. I couldn’t really pass anyone in the heat race. The track was a little bit sketchy, and I was eighth or ninth, so 18th overall for the gate pick in the main event is pretty bad. I was far outside and when the 30 second board went up, I was like, “I need that start. I need to have a good start.” I had a great start, and I was in fifth or sixth maybe and I saw on the second lap that Haiden was in first. I was like, “Okay, I cannot make any mistakes,” because I knew if I was 10th or 11th if he won that he would be champion, so I was kind of stressed a little bit through the whole race. We managed to finish eighth and it was a good race.

We noticed you and Haiden Deegan had words both at press day yesterday and during practice today. Could you kind of talk about what was happening between you two?
Yeah, I kind of knew that Haiden was already trying to mess with me from press day, but I kind of understood it. In his position, I would maybe do the same to be honest. He’s still young and he’s riding good, especially today, he rode well all day. He tried a little bit to mess with me, but I cannot be angry with him because I would maybe do the same. When you’re second and we’re training so hard all year for that title, I kind of understand him messing with me a little bit.

Being a two-time MX2 World Champion, that’s a very hard series to win, I want to know the comparison. It’s a shorter series here, you’ve got a lot of breaks and different conditions, different tracks and a completely different discipline, how does it compare to winning an MX2 title and did you rely on some of that championship experience tonight?
I think so, that helped me a little bit tonight. But I would say that title was harder than the one in MX2. I feel like because it’s only my second year in Supercross, I still have a lot to learn, and I’m actually learning every race I feel like. I feel like in GP’s, I was kind of controlling it a bit more and I knew what I was doing a little bit more outdoors. I felt a little bit safer. It’s a championship with 20 races, here it’s way shorter and you cannot make any mistakes. It was hard today, to be honest, a little bit harder I would say than my 250 title in Europe.